Sunday, January 27, 2019

Luke 4.21-30: The Word Has Left the Building

The episode of Jesus preaching in his home synagogue begins with Luke 4:16. Jesus is handed the scroll, he reads the words of Isaiah and returns the scroll to the attendant. There was a momentary pause, then Jesus proclaimed that the word had been made flesh in himself that very day. And the uproar began. In the second part of the story, found in verses 21-30, we get, as Paul Harvey would have said, "the rest of the story."

The rest of the story doesn't go so well for Jesus. He is driven out of town up to a hill where the crowd plans to throw him off. That doesn't happen, but even so, it's probably not the homecoming that Jesus' followers imagined.

The manuscript illumination below is from a picture Bible created in northwest France c. 1190-1200.  In this illustration Jesus is literally pushed out of (presumably) the town. Green grass is under his bare feet. But in this manuscript illustration Jesus seems to be carrying a book as he is pushed out of the city.
The Jews Chase Christ Out of the City. 1190-1200. The Hague, KB, 76 F 5 fol. 16r sc. 1B. 
Koninklijke Bibliotheek National Library of the Netherlands

The icon Christ Pantocrator usually shows Jesus holding a book (the New Testament). The icon of Jesus the Teacher shows Jesus with an open book and the text "I am the light of the world..." Seeing Jesus carrying a book in this setting raises questions rather than answers them.  

What is that book? Is Jesus taking the scroll of Isaiah (conveniently bound in book form) with him? Or is this an attempt to remind the viewer that in rejecting Jesus as the Word (who became flesh and dwelt among us) they also rejected that the word they heard was fulfilled in their hearing? In Mark's version of Jesus' rejection in Nazareth, the gospel writer remarks that because of the people's unbelief Jesus could do no deeds of power among them. Perhaps that is the reason for the book leaving with Jesus. His power left with him, and his power came from God, whose story is told in scripture. The people don't know it, but they are pushing away the Word of God. 

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook..."Is not this Joseph's son?"  For additional thoughts on Jeremiah 1:4-10, click here.

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